Why cricket fascinates me

TCA Srinivasa Raghavan
TCA Srinivasa Raghavan

October and November were very fraught months for me. The cricket World Cup started on Oct 5 and ended on Nov 19, 2023. That’s 45 days. What I found trying was that I didn’t meet a single male person who wasn’t a total expert. Total means total. He knew it all. It seemed as if the entire male population of India comprised either retired players or current top class players. None hesitated even for a moment before pronouncing judgement.

But for this periodic irritation caused by fans, I was in a state of deep contentment. On the days there was just one game, the match took up around eight hours a day. On the days there were two matches it took up 12. I tell you, it was blissful. There’s nothing more that I enjoy than this game. No other sport comes anywhere near it — and for good reason. It’s what’s called non-linearity in mathematics.

Non-linearity means you can’t predict the final outcome from the starting conditions. The best-known illustrative example of this is that a butterfly flapping its wings in Peru can cause an earthquake in Japan. Cricket is like that. There are a dozen things that happen between the time the bowler lets go of the ball and the batsman plays it. There’s the way he grips the ball, the speed, swing or spin he generates, where it lands, how much it turns, how the batsman responds, where the ball touches the bat, the position of the batsman’s feet and head… one can go on listing the number of things that result in runs being scored, or not, or the batsman getting out by being bowled, caught, stumped, run out or trapped leg before wicket. Then there’s catching — taken or dropped. And the number of runs that are possible off each ball — 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 and 0. The permutations are endless.

So you see where the beauty of the game lies. So many different things can influence the outcome of each ball that’s bowled. No other game has this huge variety of possibilities and I haven’t even mentioned the state of the pitch, the outfield, rain, dew, wind and, of course, the crowd. All these things also have a bearing on what happens.

There are a dozen things that happen between the time the bowler lets go of the ball and the batsman plays it. That makes cricket the ultimate example of non-linearity.

This is not all. There’s the field placing. People who have not played the game at a reasonably high level don’t realise how this can make a difference. I mean, while watching a game have you ever wondered how so many shots go straight to a fielder? It’s because the man (or woman) has been placed there deliberately. That is why the skill of the batsman in picking the gaps becomes such an indicator of skills.

Another highly underrated skill is how well a batsman can run those 22 yards that constitutes the pitch. It looks simple, but you should try it, not just alone but with a partner running in the opposite direction. This skill can be crucial in crunch moments. A split second can make the difference, especially when you include the time taken to turn around for another run.

Even the balance of the ball and the height of the seam can make a difference. Before a match starts, the fielding side is given a box of 12 balls from which to choose and usually the most senior and experienced player chooses the ball. The right choice can make all the difference to accuracy and what the bowler would like the ball to do.

Finally in the old days even the umpires could be critical to the outcome. There was no technology to show he was wrong and quite often the umpires of the home team had a bias in favour of their country. That’s why neutral umpires were brought in.

That’s what makes cricket the ultimate example of non-linearity. You can’t predict the outcome at all. And I love it.

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